5 years ago

Making technology progress relevant in travel – dead easy, dead slow or just dead but why?

Technology folks all have great ideas for the next coolest thing. But for traditional companies, particularly those in travel, very few of these ideas see the light of day.

Yet, (and strangely conversely) some of the highest value companies to have emerged on the web in recent years are playing in the travel space and yes, you guessed it, they come from a technology base.

As I left Miami from the OpenTravel Advisory Forum I was struck by an ad for HSBC that stated: “two thirds of the world’s billionaires started with nothing”. Hmmm, food for thought.

So why is it the traditional players find it so hard to make investment decisions in travel technology? As noted in my post yesterday – traditional travel technology looks like a third world (read backward) country. Everyone involved seems to be petrified of upsetting the status quo.

Today’s great ideas and initiatives become yesterday’s door stops just too darn fast. How to break this cycle of disheartening inertia should be a priority for all of us involved in travel technology.

As I looked around the room at the OpenTravel session in Miami this week, I was struck by the age of the participants. So many people there are just plain old. Nothing wrong with old but it needs balance and it needs young blood.

I was also disheartened by the lack of people who had been pioneers in early stages of the web. There are a lot of people who have been successful in travel technology but they don’t seem to be participating in the next generation.

So here is an appeal. Those of you who made a killing in technology and want to participate in developing the next generation of travel, get off your rears and come and participate in this business.

Help us to shake the inertia and get real world products into the marketplace FAST.  Help us to blast through the traditional long lead times for change.

For the longest time the adage the quick and the dead didn’t apply to travel. Well guess what … now it does. And I for one do not intend being in the dead category. Care to join me?

NB: Cogs image via Shutterstock 

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Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

About the Writer :: Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is the managing partner for venture firm VaultPAD Ventures– an accelerator devoted exclusively to Aviation Travel and Tourism.

VaultPAD also is the parent company for consulting firm, T2Impact. Timothy has been with tnooz since the beginning, writing in particular aviation, technology, startups and innovation.

One of the first companies to emerge from the accelerator is Air Black Box. a cloud-based software company providing airline connectivity solutions and in production with airlines in Asia Pacific.

Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team, where he headed the international and ground transportation portfolios. He also spent time with Worldspan as the international head of technology, where he managed technology services from infrastructure to product.

He is also a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes as Professor Sabena. He sits on a number of advisory and executive boards



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  1. Michelle

    I just had this exact convesation yesterday. The industry needs some new blood, time for the next generation to come in and shake things up. The GDS needs to be relaced and if google, who have the money, want to have a crack at it, I welcome it. The travel industry has been appling bandaid solutions for years and shows in the form of a bunch of old systems layered on top of each other and not really working, and by that I mean making the end user’s work easier.

  2. Travopia

    Thanks for highlighting the pressing issue of industry. Technology and processes involved in travel have to be improved and understood big time.

    I was travelling on Jet Airways last week. I didn’t have any checkin bags, I took out my boarding passes from the self service machine. The Jet Airways agent standing near the machine told me that no stamping is required on the boarding pass. But, while I was boarding the flight, security of Jet Airways stopped me asking “why there is no stamp on your boarding pass, it should be stamped”. I had to explain him so many times that I don’t have any baggage so the agent said its not required. But, he wan’t convinced. Had a tough time.

    Having been in this industry for many loving years – I know for sure that there are so many processes that can be improved with the power of technology.

    But, JMart above has a valid point. Not all biggies are open for game changing travel technology products. I personally have seen top hotel brands (while opening new branches) going with the standard products like Micros.

  3. Sergio Mello

    I do care to join you Timothy. I have been launching spears of innovative thoughts at industry events for three years and finally see something moving now.

    Thanks for shedding light on this painful truth and calling for a travel spring.
    I’m in!

  4. Brenda Spoonemore

    This is a really interesting piece and I suspect you could turn in into a longer series if you had the appetite. We are a travel startup with founders who come from tech/startups rather than the travel industry.

    It has been an interesting experience talking to established players in travel, other startups and, dare I say it, travel industry media. Tnooz is obviously focused on travel tech but other travel media are pretty middle of the road and mostly want to talk about deals and social media as the sole potential drivers of innovation. Not so. But Patrick is also correct in that many of the new ideas require a re-think of a functioning but antiquated travel ecosystem.

    I look forward to more on this topic!

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Firstly thanks all for the feedback here.

      I would if I may like to tackle Patrick’s core question. I spend a lot of time working on the inadequacies of the travel infrastructure. From a selfish point of view it actually pays my wages in a manner of speaking.

      However I believe that there are many bright sparks who are not constrained by the rigors of history and they are prepared to blow up these legacy systems.

      I was really glad to see that there is a genuine willingness by many to address the problems of legacy technologies but less are prepared to tackle the issues of legacy processes. At the Open Travel meeting – someone asked the question as to why we need boarding passes and tickets. The answer that immediately sprung to my mind was reinforced when I returned home and had to crack open the AIRIMP manual. We are in an industry that focuses on operational excellence. And in many cases that works. Sadly the utility value of travel results in players acting as well the Public Utilities of old.(and no they haven’t changed their spots much lately).

      What we do need to do is to attack not just the technology but also the business processes.In air for example, IATA’s “simplify the business” was admirable in its goals and IATA is patting itself on the back over the supposed success. However I would say that I dont think it was as successful as IATA thinks it was. All we did was to replace REALLY old and legacy systems with relatively old (and still inefficient/wasteful) processes. IE it didnt go far enough.

      Fortunately there are now other players coming into this space who are quite happy to take advantage of the stupidity of the Travel Industry in general and capitalize on its weaknesses. And I am not just saying Google.

      So I will repeat my call to wake up.

      I am not sitting idly by. I intend to do something concrete about this problem. Patrick described succinctly the perfect legacy silo thinking that still permeates our business. We can do without that – thank you. And (permitting me an opportunity to mix metaphors) lifting back the curtain on the so called sacred cows exposes a simple fact. The emperor(s) indeed have no clothes.

      Thus the ability to reform and take out these arcane technologies (which are powered by obsolete processes) has never been easier.

      This is up to us to fail. Make no mistake someone else will figure it out and fix it if we don’t. And actually I think they are probably better suited, eminently more likely to be successful than those who sit in the ivory towers today.

      But harnessing the knowledge of the way things work with the raw intellect of the hungry makes a compelling combination for success. So those of you in power… think about it. And if you don’t those Barbarians at the gate could easily oust you. Perhaps what we really need is a revolution. A travel spring perhaps?


  5. JMart

    I’ve been in this space for a long time … here’s your problem.

    As a starup technology company, I need to attract / sign a chain to be truly viable. I cannot stay in business signing only a smattering of independents, especially one at a time.

    I cannot sign chain because I’m 4 guys in a garage and big chains have these things called risk managemement. As 4 guys in a garage, I don’t have deep enough pockets to satisfy a risk assesment.

    I’ve been in the room with the decision makers of our industry and heard them say, out loud, “this is a great idea and would be a huge leap forward for us, but I can’t risk a capital investment of (insert number here) MM dollars based on XX brand’s financials.”

    So … you get stuck with Micros and Agilysys and the rest of the “ususal suspects”, and I go and do business in a different sector.

    • Alex Kremer

      I agree with everything you said until the final sentence. As someone who’s done B2B sales in 3 different industries, I can tell you the myopic thinking you describe is prevalent in every sector/industry. I call it the “middle manager syndrome”, aka, “I’m not gonna put my job on the line if you screw up.”

      B2B.. it’s all the fun stuff.

  6. Patrick Hickey

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Tim. It can be so disheartening to see how antiquated our industry is and how many attempts to modernize it have failed. I personally think there are 2 major things standing in the way of getting us to where we all know we want to be: The current ecosystem of products in place to distribute, fulfill, and service the entire travel experience, and the holistic expertise to understand how everything fits together to make it all work.

    The first challenge is the vast ecosystem of products in place to support the process. Over the course of 40 years, so many various systems and processes have been put in place to handle specific needs in niche areas. Fares must be formatted in an ATPCO format in order to publish your fares. Communications are managed through structured messaging and message switches designed before the Internet. Revenue Management Systems are in place to optimize revenue. GDSs provide content to travel distributors. Accounting systems are specially designed to handle travel-related transactions…and on and on and on. So if you modernize one piece of this, it isn’t going to work in the overall technology ecosystem and the process falls apart. How do we simultaneously update all the essential pieces so that everything doesn’t come to a screeching halt?

    And related to this ecosystem of products is the knowledge behind it to know what purpose those systems serve. Very few people truly understand the full cycle of travel from distribution to servicing to accounting. I find this to be exceptionally true of people in technology; they have a specialty understanding in a particular area, but don’t understand the overall lifecycle of the travel experience. I think that many ingenious products have been created, but eventually fail because their creators didn’t know how to make them fit into the entire process. When you think about it, so much time and resources have been put into products to distribute travel, but you must be able to service what you sell…even if you are selling a personalized experience. For example, if the distribution system knows so much about me, my preferences, and what I’m looking for when I buy my travel, shouldn’t that knowledge be passed along to each step of the process including when I get to the airport and when I return? If you knew all this information about me when I bought it, why don’t you still know it when my travel is disrupted at the airport or when you market to me after I return?

    So as I see it, modernizing the industry requires a holistic view of the industry to understand what the parts are and how they work together. To this point, you are right…we need those folks in the “older” generation who have this understanding, but we also need those new blood visionaries to understand where we can take it. And we have to realize that with all the complexity in place to make it all happen, we will can’t realistically revolutionize the industry…we must evolutionize it. Those of us in technology need to work together to phase in new standards piece by piece until we have the industry working in the current century!

  7. brent garback

    Great point; the times have changed and added quick response to innovative solutions.


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